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Landing in Houston (search) on Thursday was not "usual." First, we could not get a gate to park our plane for more than 30 minutes and then bags were not off-loaded for 45 minutes plus. Why? We later learned that many airport employees didn't show up for work. Apparently the employees elected to evacuate... causing a major situation. It created a bigger problem for people departing Houston — the security lines were incredibly long since some TSA (search) employees did not show up and because they could not get planes loaded or unloaded.
Once off the plane, we headed into Houston — clearly the "wrong" direction. Our road was wide open but looking across the median we saw gridlock. Cars were bumper to bumper and stranded cars — that had run out of gas — were only adding to the problem.
The local news was consumed with the gridlock problem and critical of the state for not making sure the roads moved swiftly and that fuel as available. I agree — the scene was not "fun" for those who spent hours on the road only to move inches — but at least Houston had an evacuation plan and was actively working on a solution.
I was in New Orleans where the evidence suggested that there was no plan — which is different than what I see here in Houston. I guess things are relative — had this Houston scene been my first observation, I would be more aghast. But, having seen the fruits of the no plan in New Orleans (bodies floating for example), this just seemed like an enormous snafu and as long as no one died, it seemed not as bad as others were saying.
Of course then I woke to a terrible tragedy — a fire on a bus evacuating some elderly residents. I am not sure if that is related to the gridlock on the highways or some other cause — but it might "adjust" my view.
Houston sure looked peculiar late Thursday night as the sun set. The downtown streets were empty — a ghost town — yet the weather was ideal. It was a beautiful evening in Houston. Yes, that will change in a matter of hours.
When we walked into Houston TranStar (search) — Houston's Transportation and Emergency Management Center, where we did our show last night — it was like being home. Since I spent so much time at the Astrodome, I know many of the people who are in charge of taking care of disasters like this. Of course we all mentioned how we seem to run into each other at disasters. It also did not escape us how different this is — when I was at the Astrodome, Houston (and Harris County) was helping others. This time, Houston needs help.
After the show I met my colleague Shepard Smith. Shep had been in Galveston and is headed Friday to Port Arthur. Port Arthur is now the direct target of Hurricane Rita (search). Since Shep works in New York and I work in D.C., we rarely get to spend much time together. So last night, the "calm before the storm" gave us the chance to have a glass of wine and talk. We both noted the luxury of last night — food and power. And today? Well, we don't know what to expect. Power may not be in the cards, so I at least know I have a flashlight.
The plan for us is a two-hour show on Friday night. Of course, Hurricane Rita may have different plans and could create technical issues. I guess we will see...
By the way, if you heard the beep indicating a cell phone message throughout the second to last segment on our show last night, that was not my phone. Usually I am the guilty party — the one who neglects to turn off the cell phone. This time I was totally not guilty. During the segment (yes, while on air) the crew — thinking I was the culprit — kept motioning to me to handle the problem. Finally, still on the air, I reached to my belt, grabbed my cell and, out of camera sight, threw it to my producer to prove I was not guilty. I watched out the corner of my eye as he checked my phone. Meanwhile, the beeping continued. It turns out, it was a guest on the local FOX News affiliate. They were doing a live shot right next to us.
Here are some e-mails. Note: Many relate to the 82-year-old man we had on the show Thursday night who has decided not to evacuate Galveston:
E-mail No. 1
Maybe you should try and get in touch with that gentleman and tell him he may want to cook his TV dinners and other things while he still has electricity. How is he going to boil his water?
E-mail No. 2
Serious news programs such as yours are enhanced on that rare occasion when "stupid humans" get on TV. I only regret that Fletcher was not on camera. Please, I beg of you to get Fletch so that we may see him and get even more of a laugh than when you spoke with him via telephone. Milk and frozen dinners with no power. A bathtub full of drinking water will be used to flush the toilet. I can only imagine your thoughts at that moment. Just how far above stupid is this guy? No matter. I look forward to you having him on tomorrow.
One of your regular viewers,
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
E-mail No. 3
First of all let me say I think your show is terrific. I watch almost every night. I just saw your interview with Fletcher Harris in Galveston, TX. I know he sounds as if he comes off a little bit as "off center" because he has chosen to ride out the storm. But he is not. I am what is referred to as a BOI (Born on the Island) meaning I was born on Galveston Island and I'm sure Fletcher was too. Fletcher Harris has been a civic leader, successful businessman and is also a decorated military veteran.
My mother has attended the same church with Fletcher for over 60 years, Galveston First Baptist, where he has been a leader as well.
I know it sounds strange to hear someone say, "I have water — I filled the bathtub." But that's one of the ways Galvestonians have done it for many hurricanes, including Carla which hit Galveston my senior year in high school in Galveston.
Unfortunately, maybe fortunately, I live in Wisconsin now and can only watch as this terrible situation unfolds. My mother safely left Galveston yesterday so I don't have a worry there.
I guess my point is that Fletcher Harris is the type person that loves the city and has helped to shape Galveston into what it is and if he wants to "ride it out" I'm pulling for him. I know many of your viewers don't understand why a person would do that but I do.
Keep up your good work
James H. Robson
E-mail No. 4
Please ask Fletcher Harris (that refuses to leave and is going to eat frozen TV dinners) if he has his name/personal info written on the inside of his forearm in waterproof marker just in case... and IF Rita comes his way, is he expecting helicopters (pilots risking their lives) to rescue him at our government's expense?
God be with the people in the path of Rita.
E-mail No. 5
Please keep the world updated on Fletcher Harris. In his eighties and thinking he can survive on TV Dinners? An ice chest to keep his eggs and milk cold? I don't think he understood the lack of logic in that until you spoke to him. The thought of an old man on an island with virtually no one else — all alone during a Category 4 hurricane — is both disturbing and sad to me. I would very much like to know if he is still with us in a few days.
J. L. Yeager
E-mail No. 6
When I first saw you on FOX, I thought you were a bitch who I did not want to watch! However, I changed my mind about you. I now enjoy your reports more than ever. You are one tough cookie and you do your job very well!
Thanks for making my day! Keep up the good work!
E-mail No. 7
I won't be able to sleep until someone helps the elderly man you interviewed by phone with only frozen dinners. Please do something for him so he doesn't die in this storm. I'm begging you.
E-mail No. 8
C'mon, Greta Van White Chicks — I'm a 40-year-old white mother of two. The amount of time you spend on one person is admirable — but racist. I would like to see you tell your bosses to KYA. There are plenty of missing females, males and children who need the media's attention. You are the one who looks foolish and racist. Diversifiy or quit.
ANSWER: Of course we could always do better, but I guess you have not seen the countless hours we have spent finding missing people arising out of Katrina. We spent many, many, many hours doing this... and they were mostly minorities.
E-mail No. 9
Please ask someone why the authorities will not let those of us who have been on the northbound side of the Interstate 45 for 12 hours or more use the near empty southbound side that has been supposedly opened to help with the traffic crunch? Why let those who have just recently left Houston whiz past those of us who tried to leave early this morning? Please ask!
"Frustrated on the freeway"
Norman and Nelda Lawrence
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